Dorothy Hodgkin

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Dorothy Hodgkin
Dorothy Hodgkin Nobel.jpg
Dorothy Hodgkin
Born Dorothy Mary Crowfoot
(1910-05-12)12 May 1910
Cairo, Egypt
Died 29 July 1994(1994-07-29) (aged 84)
Ilmington, Warwickshire, England
Residence Oxford, England
Nationality British
Fields Biochemistry, X-ray crystallography
Alma mater
Doctoral advisor John Desmond Bernal
Doctoral students
Other notable students
Known for
Notable awards
Spouse Thomas Lionel Hodgkin (m. 1937)
Children Luke, Elizabeth, and Toby

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin OM FRS[2] (12 May 1910 – 29 July 1994) was a British chemist who developed protein crystallography, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964.[2][4][5][6][7][8][9]

She advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography, a method used to determine the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. Among her most influential discoveries are the confirmation of the structure of penicillin as previously surmised by Ernst Boris Chain and Edward Abraham, and the structure of vitamin B12, for which she became the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[9]

In 1969, after 35 years of work, Hodgkin was able to decipher the structure of insulin. X-ray crystallography became a widely used tool and was critical in later determining the structures of many biological molecules where knowledge of structure is critical to an understanding of function. She is regarded as one of the pioneer scientists in the field of X-ray crystallography studies of biomolecules.

Early life 1910-1928[edit]

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot was born in Cairo, Egypt, to John Winter Crowfoot (1873–1959), the country's deputy director of Education, and Grace Mary Crowfoot née Hood (1877–1957), who would become an expert on archaeological textiles. The family lived in Cairo during the winter months, returning to England for the hotter part of each year. In August 1914, during one of those stays in England, World War I began.

Her mother Molly left her three daughters, Dorothy, Joan and Elisabeth (aged, respectively, four, two and 7 months) behind in England and returned to her husband in Egypt. Soon they both moved to Sudan where John would be in charge of education and archaeology until 1925. As a consequence of the war Molly lost all her four brothers and became an ardent supporter of the new League of Nations. [10]

Dorothy and her two sisters were left under the care of her Crowfoot grandparents in Worthing (Sussex) and a nurse until after the end of the war. Molly spent a year in England after the war ended, getting to know her girls again. The time she spent with her children and their Crowfoot cousins they would later describe as one of the best periods in their life. A botanist, an excellent draughtswoman, a producer of amateur plays, Molly was an imaginative and encouraging mother for her children (a fourth daughter, Diana, was born in Khartoum in June 1918). Asked in later life to name her heroes (she abhorred the term "role model"[11]) Dorothy mentioned three women: the medical missionary Mary Slessor; the Principal of Somerville College, Oxford, Margery Fry; and, first and foremost, her mother Molly.[12]

In 1921, Dorothy entered the Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles where she was one of two girls allowed to study chemistry.[13] Only once, when she was 13, did she make an extended visit to her parents, now settled in Khartoum. Resuming the pre-war pattern, John and Molly lived and worked in North Africa and the Middle East for part of the year, returning to England and their children for several months every summer. In 1926, on his retirement from the Sudan Civil Service John took the post of Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, where he and Molly remained until 1937.

Education and research[edit]

Dorothy developed a passion for chemistry from a young age, and her mother fostered her interest in all the sciences (Molly was a highly proficient botanist). Her State school education did not include Latin, then required for entrance to Oxbridge, and the Leman School headmaster gave her personal tuition to overcome this barrier, enabling Dorothy to pass the University of Oxford entrance examination.

At the age of 18 she started studying Chemistry at the University of Oxford (Somerville College).[14] In 1932 Dorothy was awarded a first-class honours degree at the University of Oxford – as the third woman ever to achieve this.[15]

Molecular structure of vitamin B12, discovered by Dorothy Hodgkin

It was when studying for a doctorate at Newnham College, Cambridge, supervised by J.D. Bernal,[16] that she became aware of the potential of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of proteins. She was working with Bernal on the technique's first application to the analysis of a biological substance, pepsin.[17] The pepsin experiment is largely credited to Hodgkin herself, but Hodgkin always made it clear that it was Bernal who initially took the photographs and gave her additional key insights.[18]

In 1933 she was awarded a research fellowship by Somerville College, and in 1934, she moved back to Oxford. The college appointed her its first fellow and tutor in chemistry in 1936, a post which she held until 1977. In the 1940s, one of her students was Margaret Roberts, the future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,[19] who installed a portrait of Hodgkin in Downing Street in the 1980s.[14]

Together with Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl M. Oughton, she was one of the first people in April 1953 to travel from Oxford to Cambridge to see the model of the double helix structure of DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson, based on data and technique acquired by Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin. According to the late Dr. Beryl Oughton, later Rimmer, they all travelled together in two cars once Dorothy Hodgkin announced to them that they were off to Cambridge to see the model of the structure of DNA.

In 1960, she was appointed the Royal Society's Wolfson Research Professor, a position she held until 1970.[9] This provided her salary, research expenses and research assistance to continue her work at the University of Oxford.


Model of the structure of penicillin, by Dorothy Hodgkin, Oxford, c. 1945
Molecular model of penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c. 1945

Hodgkin was particularly noted for discovering three-dimensional biomolecular structures.[4] In 1945, working with C. H. (Harry) Carlisle, she published the first such structure of a steroid, cholesteryl iodide (having worked with cholesteryls since the days of her doctoral studies).[20] In 1945, she and her colleagues solved the structure of penicillin, demonstrating (contrary to scientific opinion at the time) that it contains a β-lactam ring. However, the work was not published until 1949.[21]

In 1948, Hodgkin first encountered vitamin B12,[22] and created new crystals. Vitamin B12 had first been discovered by Merck earlier that year. It had a structure at the time that was almost completely unknown, and when Hodgkin discovered it contained cobalt, she realized the structure actualization may be determined by x-ray crystallography analysis. The large size of the molecule, and the fact that the atoms were largely unaccounted for – aside from cobalt - posed a challenge in structure analysis that hadn't been previously explored.[23] From these crystals, she deduced the presence of a ring structure because the crystals were pleochroic, a finding which she later confirmed using X-ray crystallography. The B12 study published by Hodgkin was described by Lawrence Bragg as being as significant "as breaking the sound barrier".[23][24] Scientists from Merck had previously crystallised B12, but had published only refractive indices of the substance.[25] The final structure of B12, for which Hodgkin was later awarded the Nobel Prize, was published in 1955.[26]

Insulin structure[edit]

Insulin was one of her most extraordinary research projects. It began in 1934 when she was offered a small sample of crystalline insulin by Robert Robinson. The hormone captured her imagination because of the intricate and wide-ranging effect it has in the body. However, at this stage X-ray crystallography had not been developed far enough to cope with the complexity of the insulin molecule. She and others spent many years improving the technique. Larger and more complex molecules were being tackled until in 1969 – 35 years later – the structure of insulin was finally resolved.[27] But her quest was not finished then. She cooperated with other laboratories active in insulin research, gave advice, and travelled the world giving talks about insulin and its importance for diabetes.

Public and personal life[edit]

Dorothy's scientific mentor Professor John Desmond Bernal greatly influenced her life, both scientifically and politically. He was a distinguished scientist, an open and vocal member of the Communist Party, and a faithful supporter of successive Soviet regimes until their invasion of Hungary. Dorothy always referred to him as "Sage"; intermittently, they were lovers. The marriages of both Bernal and Hodgkin were far from smooth.[28]

At the age of 24, Dorothy began experiencing pain in her hands. A visit to a doctor led to a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis which would become progressively worse and crippling over time with deformities in both her hands and feet. In her last years, Dorothy spent a great deal of time in a wheelchair but remained scientifically active despite her disability.[29]

In 1937, Dorothy married Thomas Lionel Hodgkin, then recently returned from working for the Colonial Office and moving into adult education.[30] He later became a well-known Oxford lecturer, the author of several major works on African history and politics and an occasional member of the Communist Party.[31] The couple had three children: Luke[32] (born 1938), Elizabeth[33] (born 1941) and Toby[34] (born 1946).

"Today I lost my maiden name"[edit]

Dorothy published as "Dorothy Crowfoot" until 1949, when she was persuaded by Hans Clarke’s secretary to use her married name on her chapter in The Chemistry of Penicillin. By then she had been married for 12 years, given birth to three children and been admitted to the Royal Society. Her elder son Luke recalls his mother returning home and announcing in mock tragic tones, "Today I lost my maiden name".[35]

Thereafter she would publish as "Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin", and this was the name used by the Nobel Foundation in its biographies of Nobel Prize recipients[36] and by the Chemical Heritage Foundation.[37] Elsewhere, largely for simplicity's sake, Dorothy is referred to as "Dorothy Hodgkin" by institutions including The Royal Society, sponsor of the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship,[38] and Somerville College, after inaugurating the annual lectures in her honour. The National Archives of the United Kingdom refer to her as "Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin", as do a variety of plaques commemorating places where she worked or lived, e.g. 94 Woodstock Road, Oxford.

Political views and activities[edit]

Because of her political activity, and her husband's association with the Communist Party, she was banned from entering the US in 1953 and subsequently not allowed to visit the country except by CIA waiver.[39]

In 1961 Thomas became an advisor to Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, a country where he remained for extended periods. Dorothy was with him there when news came of the Nobel Prize award.

Dorothy was herself never a communist, but she inherited from her mother Molly a concern about social inequalities and a determination to do what she could to prevent armed, particularly, nuclear conflict. As a consequence she became president of Pugwash in 1976, and only stepped down from that position in 1988.[40]

At the age of 73, Dorothy earned a certain notoriety after writing a foreword to the English edition (1983) of Stereospecific Polymerization of Isoprene, supposedly the work of Elena Ceausescu, the wife of the communist dictator of Romania. Dorothy wrote in glowing terms of Ceausescu's "outstanding achievements" and "impressive" career.[41] After the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it was revealed that Elena Ceausescu had neither finished secondary school nor attended university. Her scientific credentials were a hoax, and the publication in question (like all the research published under her name during her lifetime) was written for her by a team of scientists to obtain a fraudulent doctorate.[42]


On 29 July 1994, Hodgkin died after a stroke at her husband's home in the village of Ilmington, near Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire.[9]

Honours, awards and legacy[edit]

Order of Merit medal of Dorothy Hodgkin, displayed in the Royal Society, London

Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964. As of 2016 she remains the only British woman scientist to have been awarded a Nobel Prize. In 1965 she was the second woman to receive the Order of Merit, preceded only by Florence Nightingale. She was the first, and as of 2016, the only woman to receive the Copley Medal.

During her lifetime she was also honoured with a number of awards in the Soviet bloc: in 1982 Dorothy received the Lomonosov Medal of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and in 1987 she accepted the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev. The communist government of Bulgaria awarded her its Dimitrov Prize.

Hodgkin was Chancellor of the University of Bristol from 1970 to 1988. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1947[2] and an EMBO Member in 1970.[3] She was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) from the University of Bath in 1978.[43] In 1958, she was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[44] and became a foreign member of the USSR Academy of Sciences in the 1970s.

In 1983, Hodgkin received the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.[45] In 1966, she was awarded the Iota Sigma Pi National Honorary Member for her significant contribution.[46]

Her papers are held in the Bodleian Library.[47]

Posthumous recognition[edit]

The Royal Society established the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship to enable researchers in the early stages of their career to take time out to raise a family or care for a family member.[38]

Dorothy has twice been included in a special issue of British postage stamps.

She was one of five 'Women of Achievement' selected for a set issued in August 1996. The others were Marea Hartman (sports administrator), Margot Fonteyn (ballerina/choreographer), Elisabeth Frink (sculptor) & Daphne du Maurier (writer). All except Hodgkin were Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBEs).

In 2010, during the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society, Dorothy was the only woman in a set of stamps celebrating some of the Society's most illustrious members. She took her place alongside Isaac Newton, Edward Jenner, Joseph Lister, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Babbage, Robert Boyle, Ernest Rutherford, Nicholas Shackleton and Alfred Russel Wallace.[48]

Council offices in the London Borough of Hackney and buildings at King's College London, University of York, Bristol University and Keele University are named after her, as is the science block at Sir John Leman High School, her former school.

In 2012, Hodgkin featured in the BBC Radio 4 series The New Elizabethans to mark the diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. A panel of seven academics, journalists and historians named her among the group of people in the UK "whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and given the age its character".[49]

In 2015 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin's 1949 paper "The X-ray Crystallographic Investigation of the Structure of Penicillin" (published with colleagues C. W. Bunn, B. W. Rogers-Low, and A. Turner Jones)[50] was honoured by a Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Award from the Division of History of Chemistry of the American Chemical Society presented to the University of Oxford (England). This research is notable for its groundbreaking use of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of complex natural products, in this instance, of penicillin.[51][52] Hodgkin used her maiden name "D. Crowfoot" in this paper published many years after her marriage.[50]

Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture[edit]

Since 1999, the Oxford International Women's Festival has presented an annual memorial lecture, usually in March, in honour of Hodgkin's work. The Lecture is a collaboration between Oxford AWiSE (Association for Women in Science & Engineering), Somerville College and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecturers
  • Professor Louise Johnson, "Dorothy Hodgkin and penicillin", 4 March 1999.
  • Professor Judith Howard, "The Interface of Chemistry and Biology Increasingly in Focus", *13 March 2000.
  • Professor Jenny Glusker, "Vitamin B12 and Dorothy: Their impact on structural science", 15 May 2001.
  • Professor Pauline Harrison CBE, "From Crystallography to Metals, Metabolism and Medicine", 5 March 2002.
  • Dr Claire Naylor, "Pathogenic Proteins: how bacterial agents cause disease", 4 March 2003.
  • Dr Margaret Adams, "A Piece in the Jigsaw: G6PD – The protein behind an hereditary disease", 9 March 2004.
  • Dr. Margaret Rayman, "Selenium in cancer prevention", 10 March 2005.
  • Dr Elena Conti, "Making sense of nonsense: structural studies of RNA degradation and disease", 9 March 2006.
  • Professor Jenny Martin, "The name's Bond – Disulphide Bond", 6 March 2007.
  • Professor E. Yvonne Jones, "Postcards from the surface: The Structural Biology of Cell-Cell Communication", 4 March 2008.
  • Professor Pamela J. Bjorkman, "Your mother's antibodies: How you get them and how we might improve them to combat HIV", 11 March 2009.
  • Professor Elspeth Garman, "Crystallography 100 years A.D (After Dorothy)" 9 March 2010.
  • Professor Eleanor Dodson, "Mathematics in the service of Crystallography" 10 March 2011.
  • Professor Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, "How antibiotics illuminate ribosome function and vice versa" March 2012.
  • Professor Susan Lea, "Bacterial secretion systems – using structure to build towards new therapeutic opportunities", 5 March 2013.
  • Professor Carol V. Robinson, "Finding the Right Balance", 11 March 2014
  • Professor Petra Fromme, "A New Era in Structural Biology", 12 March 2015
  • Professor Dame Kay Davies CBE FRS FMedSci, "Therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy in the genomic era" 4 March 2016[citation needed]


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  2. ^ a b c d e Dodson, Guy (2002). "Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, O.M. 12 May 1910 - 29 July 1994". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. London: Royal Society. 48 (0): 179–219. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2002.0011. ISSN 0080-4606. 
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  4. ^ a b Glusker, J. P. (1994). "Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994)". Protein Science. 3 (12): 2465–2469. doi:10.1002/pro.5560031233. PMC 2142778Freely accessible. PMID 7757003. 
  5. ^ Glusker, J. P.; Adams, M. J. (1995). "Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin". Physics Today. 48 (5): 80. Bibcode:1995PhT....48e..80G. doi:10.1063/1.2808036. 
  6. ^ Johnson, L. N.; Phillips, D. (1994). "Professor Dorothy Hodgkin, OM, FRS". Nature Structural Biology. 1 (9): 573–576. doi:10.1038/nsb0994-573. PMID 7634095. 
  7. ^ Perutz, Max (1994). "Obituary: Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-94)". Nature. 371 (6492): 20–20. Bibcode:1994Natur.371...20P. doi:10.1038/371020a0. PMID 7980814. 
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  10. ^ "Dorothy Hodgkin 1910 - 1994". A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries a 1997 PBS documentary and accompanying book. 
  11. ^ Elizabeth Hodgkin, private communication.
  12. ^ Lisa Tuttle, Women and their heroes, 1994.
  13. ^ Georgina Ferry, Dorothy Hodgkin—A Life, Granta Books: London, 1998, p. 20.
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  16. ^ Hodgkin, D. M. C. (1980). "John Desmond Bernal. 10 May 1901-15 September 1971". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 26: 16. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1980.0002. 
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  19. ^ Young, Hugo (1989). One of us: a biography of Margaret Thatcher. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-34439-1. 
  20. ^ Carlisle, C. H.; Crowfoot, D. (1945). "The Crystal Structure of Cholesteryl Iodide". Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 184 (996): 64. Bibcode:1945RSPSA.184...64C. doi:10.1098/rspa.1943.0040. 
  21. ^ Crowfoot, D.; Bunn, Charles W.; Rogers-Low, Barbara W.; Turner-Jones, Annette (1949). "X-ray crystallographic investigation of the structure of penicillin". In Clarke, H. T.; Johnson, J. R.; Robinson, R. Chemistry of Penicillin. Princeton University Press. pp. 310–367. 
  22. ^ Hodgkin, Dorothy. "Beginning to work on vitamin B12". Web of Stories. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  23. ^ a b "Tools Hodgkin, Dorothy Mary Crowfoot". Cengage Learning. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  24. ^ Brink, C.; Hodgkin, D. C.; Lindsey, J.; Pickworth, J.; Robertson, J. H.; White, J. G. (1954). "Structure of Vitamin B12: X-ray Crystallographic Evidence on the Structure of Vitamin B12". Nature. 174 (4443): 1169–71. Bibcode:1954Natur.174.1169B. doi:10.1038/1741169a0. PMID 13223773. 
  25. ^ RICKES, E. L.; BRINK, N. G.; KONIUSZY, F. R.; WOOD, T. R.; FOLKERS, K. (16 April 1948). "Crystalline Vitamin B12". Science. 107 (2781): 396–397. Bibcode:1948Sci...107..396R. doi:10.1126/science.107.2781.396. PMID 17783930. 
  26. ^ Hodgkin, D. C.; Pickworth, J.; Robertson, J. H.; Trueblood, K. N.; Prosen, R. J.; White, J. G. (1955). "Structure of Vitamin B12 : The Crystal Structure of the Hexacarboxylic Acid derived from B12 and the Molecular Structure of the Vitamin". Nature. 176 (4477): 325–8. Bibcode:1955Natur.176..325H. doi:10.1038/176325a0. PMID 13253565. 
  27. ^ Adams, M. J.; Blundell, T. L.; Dodson, E. J.; Dodson, G. G.; Vijayan, M.; Baker, E. N.; Harding, M. M.; Hodgkin, D. C.; Rimmer, B.; Sheat, S. (1969). "Structure of Rhombohedral 2 Zinc Insulin Crystals". Nature. 224 (5218): 491. Bibcode:1969Natur.224..491A. doi:10.1038/224491a0. 
  28. ^ Ferry, Georgina (1998). Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life. London: Granta Books. ISBN 1-86207-167-5. 
  29. ^ Walters, Kirsten. "Not Standing Still's Disease". Retrieved 2011-12-03. 
  30. ^ "Mr Thomas Hodgkin". The Times. 26 March 1982. 
  31. ^ Michael Wolfers, ‘Hodgkin, Thomas Lionel (1910–1982)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2008, accessed 15 January 2010
  32. ^ "Dr Luke Hodgkin", Academic Staff, King's College London.
  33. ^ "Fellows and governance of the Rift Valley Institute".
  34. ^ "Toby Hodgkin", PAR Researcher Database.
  35. ^ Luke Hodgkin, email.
  36. ^ "Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin - Biographical". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  37. ^ "Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin". Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  38. ^ a b "Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship". Royal Society. 2016. Retrieved 2 November 2016. 
  39. ^ Rose, Hilary (1994). Love, Power, and Knowledge: Towards a Feminist Transformation of the Sciences. Indiana University Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780253209078. 
  40. ^ Howard, J. A. K. (2003). "Timeline: Dorothy Hodgkin and her contributions to biochemistry". Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. 4 (11): 891–896. doi:10.1038/nrm1243. PMID 14625538. 
  41. ^ Ceausescu, Elena (1983). Stereospecific Polymerization of Isoprene. Pergamon. ISBN 978-0-08-029987-7. 
  42. ^ Behr, Edward (1991). Kiss the Hand You Cannot Bite. ISBN 0-679-40128-8. 
  43. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present | University of Bath". Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  44. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  45. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 690. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  46. ^ "PROFESSIONAL AWARDS". Iota Stigma Pi: National Honor Society for Women in Chemistry. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  47. ^
  48. ^ "Getting the Royal Society stamp of approval". New Scientist. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  49. ^ "The New Elizabethans - Dorothy Hodgkin". BBC. Retrieved 30 May 2016. 
  50. ^ a b D. Crowfoot, C. W. Bunn, B. W. Rogers-Low, A. Turner Jones, "The X-ray Crystallographic Investigation of the Structure of Penicillin," in H.T. Clarke, J.R. Johnson, R. Robinson (eds), The Chemistry of Penicillin, Princeton University Press, Chapter XI, pp. 310-366, 1949.
  51. ^ "2015 Awardees". American Chemical Society, Division of the History of Chemistry. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Chemical Sciences. 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2016. 
  52. ^ "Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Award" (PDF). American Chemical Society, Division of the History of Chemistry. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Chemical Sciences. 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Beaufort
Chancellor of the University of Bristol
Succeeded by
Sir Jeremy Morse